Workshop: Speculative Imaginaries for Technology and Human Rights

On Tuesday, 7 May 2024, Saide Mobayed, a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology, convened a session on ‘Speculative Imaginaries for Technology and Human Rights’ for the CARR/CGHR 2024 Convening of Technology and Human Rights Fellows.

Saide held that technology, human rights, and the future are inexorably interconnected—and so are our imaginaries about them. Cultural industries and popular media imprint our hopes, desires, and angst in narratives, often shaped as fatalist dystopic landscapes or optimistic utopic sceneries of where technology might take us. Yet, as Amade M’charek reminds us, such constructions of social life are “simultaneously factual and fictional” (2013: 423). In other words, our facts and fictions reflect a sociological zeitgeist worth exploring.

Drawing on Ruha Benjamin’s proposal to expand our sociological imagination, in this workshop, Saide asked participants to repurpose fiction to challenge and speculate on alternative futures of technology and human rights. Sure, imagination is insufficient. But how can we know where to go if we don’t push the boundaries of what we tell about our social worlds? (Benjamin, 2016). This is how she requested participants to approach fiction:

“Fictions […] are not falsehoods but refashionings through which analysts experiment with different scenarios, trajectories, and reversals, elaborating new values and testing different possibilities for creating more just and equitable societies. Such fictions are not meant to convince others of what is, but to expand our own visions of what is possible.” (Benjamin, 2016, p. 2)

This workshop aimed not to produce tangible outcomes (like a shared document or manifesto) nor to suggest ways to improve policymaking. Instead, the goal of the workshop was to expand and speculate on alternative visions of what is possible.

The workshop was divided into two activities, and participants worked in small teams. First, participants asked ChatGPT to write dystopic speculative visions of the future of technology and human rights. In this exercise, participants deliberated on what norms, values, considerations, and aspirations were elicited in these tropes. Then, participants contested ChatGPT’s story by creating their own imaginary futures. Some groups opted for the story-telling structure (exposition—inciting incident—rising action—climax—falling action—resolution), and others in exquisite corpse fashion. Below is part of the workshop, with participants Albert Fox Cahn and Dr Sharath Srinivasan.

The session by Saide was most thought-provoking and fun! By engaging in speculative exercises, participants not only stretched their creative muscles but also critically examined the underlying assumptions and potential trajectories of our technological futures. This imaginative exploration encouraged a deeper understanding of the interplay between technology and human rights, ultimately fostering a sense of agency and responsibility in shaping the type of narratives we want for our collective future.

CGHR extends our heartfelt gratitude to Saide for convening the workshop so thoughtfully and being part of the Carr/CGHR 2024 Spring Convening.


Benjamin R (2016) Racial Fictions, Biological Facts: Expanding the Sociological Imagination through Speculative Methods. Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 2(2): 1–28.

M’charek A (2013) BEYOND FACT OR FICTION: On the Materiality of Race in Practice. Cultural Anthropology28(3): 420–442.